Now you see me, now you don’t

The opening statement

A couple of weeks ago, I was doing a lesson on verbs of the senses when the difference between ‘look at’ and ‘see’ came up. After a short explanation, in an attempt to clear up any confusion, I said:

“For example, I’m looking at Janis, but I can still see unJanis, Gunta and Ginta all the way over the other side of the room.”

Blank looks all round. A little pondering later, I decided that the problem wasn’t my (incredibly enlightening) explanation, it was that Latvians don’t see things the way other people do. Of course, I haven’t reached this conclusion lightly – I’ve got evidence to back it up.

Exhibit A: Latvians at a bus-stop

When Latvians are waiting for a bus, they tend not to look in the direction the bus will be coming from, but rather at the spot where the bus will arrive. When it does, they surge forward, en masse, in a painful parade of bony elbows, spiky stilettos and sharp-cornered shopping bags, without looking left or right to see if anyone else is walking along at the same time. I always consider it something of a miracle when I manage to escape without having any toesย severed. I’m small but I know I’m not invisible so maybe there’s another explanation…

It's possible!

The best-kept secret in Latvia is out

Exhibit B: Latvians going to the shops

If I’m walking to a shop, I generally know where it is. 5 or 6 buildings away, I’ll gradually start moving to the side of the pavement the shop door is on, meaning that there is no sudden change in direction or need for sharp turns. Not so your average Latvian. They’ll walk along at the furthermost point from the shops, then turn at a 90-degree angle and make a bee-line for the door – naturally without looking left or right. It’s kind of like every destination is a surprise.

Exhibit C: Latvians in a parking lot

Be afraid, be very afraid. A Latvian exiting a parking lot is a dangerous thing. Most drivers will ease their cars onto the pavement, looking left and right to make sure they don’t squish any pedestrians. A Latvian, however, will shoot out of the parking lot straight onto the road at Formula One speeds, scattering men, women and children like skittles.

The Verdict:

Thanks to the Latvian inability to look or see, a relaxing stroll around beautiful Riga is virtually impossible. If you’re not keeping your eyes peeled for the crater-sized holes in the pavement, you’re busy side-stepping Latvians on heels or wheels, who seem determined to topple anyone who dares to share their footpaths.

I would sentence the entire population to mandatory eye-testing, but in a country where perfect vision is classified as ‘zero vision’, I’m not sure it would help much.

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About BerLinda

Adjusting to life in Germany, after living in Latvia for four years. Should be easy, right?
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29 Responses to Now you see me, now you don’t

  1. ล…ina says:

    Btw I will also want to make a blog when I will be living in Latvia! I am not sure yet in which language, but I thought I would make it bilingual – same text in Finnish and Latvian. I will give you the link when I will be there and will be doing the blog!

  2. 1WriteWay says:

    Oh, that is sad, so very sad. You’d think that after years of being like this and (presumably) bumping into each other and running over each other, they would evolve enough to cue the “stop and look” defense mechanism. But sounds like survival of the fittest over there, even if the “fittest” is someone in stilettos ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Search term from this morning: “209 litres equal how much kilograms”
    Nice to know all the bright ones end up on my blog…

  4. Since arriving in Spain, I’ve come to the conclusion that the concept of looking around you and taking others’ movements into account (i.e. a combination of looking AND seeing) is something unique to Anglo-Saxon cultures… I definitely thing you’re onto something there!

    • Expat Eye says:

      I’d never really noticed it before I came here! Just assumed that it was something everyone did! More fool me ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • gina4star says:

      Agree! I’ve experienced many similar things in Mexico. Although here there aren’t really bus stops, you just wave your arm wherever you are and the bus may or may not stop for you, but the looking and seeing and more significantly taking others’ movements into account AND realising you are not the only person there… well it leaves a lot to be desired!!!

      • Expat Eye says:

        Ha, those buses terrify me! They have them here too – apart from the ‘real’ public transport – people have died getting on and off because they start driving again when someone has one foot in, one foot out! All of us considerate people should move to an island somewhere and start our own country ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • Hmmmm…. that got me thinking… the familiar ‘pavement dance’ involving you and somebody walking towards you, where you both move in the same direction trying to avoid each other, and where you end up almost bumping into each other because of that, happens a lot less here, simply because the other person does not attempt to move. It’s always me moving out of their way ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • Expat Eye says:

        Yeah, in Ireland it’s a dance – here I just leap out of the way! Saves time I guess ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. Marianne says:

    Must take some getting used to! LOL

  6. I almost spilled my coffee over Exhibit B – too funny. It’s quite annoying from a bystander, but maybe it’s a funner (more fun?) lifestyle…I should consider joining them. I do love surprises!

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ooh, a chemist’s!! Ooh, a supermarket! Where will I end up next?! I see your point – an added element of excitement to the daily routine! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. pollyheath says:

    I have definitely given some of the most idiotic lexical explanations ever and I don’t think I can blame my students’ confusion on weird Russian-isms. Though maybe I should try.

  8. Horribly amusing. I often complain about what I go through on the bus (http://acollectionofmusings.wordpress.com/2013/06/11/are-you-licensed-to-ride-the-bus/) but I suppose your bus stop experiences might actually be worse

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha ha, I might print out a copy of that for distribution here! I thought that with it being summer, being able to walk everywhere would be so much more relaxing than taking public transport – turns out it’s a minefield!

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